by Doug Carpenter


Been Where? Done What?

When I set out 15-plus years ago to write what at the time I ceremoniously declared the “Antibiography” of the Baby Boom Generation, I honestly expected that it would involve a few fairly basic steps. I realize now that I may have been just a tad overoptimistic [...which is really such a totally “Boomer” thing to do.]

The first step would be to round up a bunch of average, typical Boomers and pick their brains about their memories of the world they grew up in and their feelings now about how it — and they — turned out. Taking the hopefully fascinating insights they would share and combining them with a little topical humor to make it amusing as well as enlightening, my challenge then would be to paint as vivid a story portrait of our generation’s journey as my own aging Boomer brain could conceive.

What I didn’t fully appreciate when I began was just how sweeping the scope of that story would be, not to mention how unique the lives were that so many Baby Boomers lived and how remarkable the times were that they collectively witnessed unfold. And it definitely would’ve been nice if it hadn’t taken me nearly the entire time to discover that there’s no such thing as an “average, typical” Baby Boomer.

Boomers are the poster children for “What’s Next?” — hardly a surprise considering how long they’ve played an instrumental role in making the “Next Big Thing” the “Next Big Thing.” But if they do share any “typical” characteristics, the most common one would probably be how crazy busy they are, regardless of their age.

Take, for example, those born in the final year of the post-war baby-having “boom,” 1964 — the bulk of whom have only barely completed their 54th year of Boomerhood. In the eyes of the world, they are [...and if you’re one of them, my apologies for saying this word...] middle-aged. But by the admittedly self-serving standards of the rest of their brother and sister Boomers, they’re just babies.

Overwrought, career-driven and nowhere-near-ready-to-retire babies, perhaps. But babies nevertheless — many of whose lives render “crazy busy” an absurd understatement as they work their little Boomer baby butts off saving for their futures while in the present desperately struggle to find time to spend with the precious Millennial grandkids their now-grown Generation X children have already given them to spoil.

Those same Boomers, of course, could also easily be spending their days just as desperately trying to find extra money to help pay the tuition bills being racked up by their Gen Xers, who — quite contentedly and conveniently — are still living with Mom and Dad while “finishing” college. Who knew waiting just an extra couple of years to start a family would be such a win-win for some and a lose-lose for others? [No wonder everyone ends up a little crazy-crazy.]

And then there’s the opposite end of the generation’s age spectrum, where you’ll find — uhhh —let’s say the less young Boomers. [You didn’t seriously think I’d call them “old,” did you? Sure, most of the ones who were born in 1946 may be 72 now. But these days, even a 72-year-old can be one downright feisty Mother... or Father. So if you want to cross them, go right ahead.]

Even as some Boomers remain fully and gainfully engaged in the daily race with their fellow rats while others have officially traded in their running shoes for orthopedic Crocs, the generation continues to break new ground [...and hopefully nothing else...] as together they redefine what the world used to call a “senior citizen.” And if you’d like to know what that now is, all you have to do is ask the right questions.

This assumes, of course, that the crazy-busy Boomers you attempt to question even hear you as they rush by on their way to one of their various semi-retirement side gigs — whether it’s working part-time at Whole Foods, volunteer tutoring in the community center’s after-school program, or learning to hang glide or garden hydroponically. And occasionally, they apparently also go on pilgrimages to a destination I’m told is called a “casino” — a place they say offers recreational diversions superior even to Bingo [...if such a thing is possible.]

Baby Boomers actually aren’t all that complicated — unless, that is, your definition of being “complicated” happens to include wanting to go everywhere, do everything and see all there is to see, all the while exercising their usual Boomer prerogative to change anything they feel like changing if they encounter something they don’t particularly like. [Oh. It does? O.K., then I guess maybe they are a little complicated.]

But don’t worry. Like I said, just ask the right questions and the usually self-obsessed psyche of virtually any Boomer will pop right open like a delayed-adolescent Jack-in-the-Box. You know what would really be cool? If they made one of those that played the Rolling Stones’ ’69 hit Jumpin’ Jack Flash when you cranked that little handle on the side. They could even market it as a “Jagger-in-the-Box.” [*White velour jumpsuit sold separately.]

Having rocked the Big 7-5 this past July, though, time isn’t exactly on Jagger’s side. So I can’t imagine he’d get much satisfaction from seeing his name plastered on a musical novelty from a bygone era that was once beloved but now edges closer to obsolescence by the day. [I was obviously referring to the toy there, not Mick. At least not directly.]

Even though he was born three years too early to officially be a Boomer, his cultural icon status effectively “Grandfathers” him in as an honorary member. And as such, he does — and continues to as he records and struts the world stage three quarters of a century on — epitomize one of a very select set of qualities that transcend the generation’s otherwise overshadowing “go/do/see” ethos. Especially notable among them, the way we aspire.

It’s one of three generation-defining adjectives I recently decided to add to the name of my book, which has now grown — or, as I prefer to think of it, matured, [...even though we supposedly don’t...] — to be titled Everyboomer: The Antibiography of an Aspirational, Confrontational and Ultimately Transformational Generation. [Well, what would you call a book about a generation that was almost too self-aware for its own good? Boomertime: The Golden Age of Humility?]

Some dismissed the Boomers’ aspirations as idealistic, unrealistic or, at the very least, overly ambitious. But protesting what they felt was an unjust and even immoral war was motivated by a desire to save lives. Securing equal rights for all people regardless of race, color or creed was intended to preserve our nation’s humanity. And resisting the tide of environmental indifference that was engulfing our planet’s people, land, oceans and atmosphere was and still is quite literally a fight to prevent the destruction of the Earth.

I’ll concede that these are all still works in progress. But looking back, I also believe that all the consciousnesses we “raised” that stayed raised... all the opposed-to-change people who backed down when we stood up to them... every victory, big or small, that we achieved... helped clear away enough of the unenlightened past for a brighter future to emerge.

Obviously we weren’t like that constantly. I mean, if being noble is your full-time job, when would you ever have time to go out and have fun? After all, the complete popular expression that inspired the title of this month’s column is “Been There. Done That. Got the T-Shirt.” And our generation has certainly collected its share of those, thanks to all the concerts, political rallies, sports events and assorted other “happenings” we attended — or at least think we attended.

If you ask them [...even if you don’t do it nicely...], most Boomers will be very happy to nostalgically rattle off for you their personal lists of the places they’ve “been” and the things they’ve “done.” A lot of what’ll be on those lists, unfortunately, could well be more the product of “wishful remembering” than an accurate recounting of their real experiences — particularly given the troubling susceptibility some Boomers seem to have to a strange condition that leaves them unconsciously but completely convinced that they attended major, even generationally-legendary events that they didn’t actually go to but just really wished they had.

While science has yet to identify its cause, simple logic would suggest that its just old-fashioned repressed envy — triggered, undoubtedly, by the galling fact that the people who did get to be present at those culturally-historic moments also get to be considered officially and permanently “cool” for the rest of their “Oh. Did I mention that I was at...?” lives. [So they happened to “know a guy” who could get them tickets. Big deal.]

It could, however, also be the result of getting hit in the head a few too many times by those wadded-up band t-shirts they fire up into the audience at concerts with high-powered compressed air cannons — which I understand send those potentially-deadly cotton/poly-blend projectiles flying at speeds that can exceed 100 mph. [That certainly could explain why so many Boomers are a little whacky.]

Then again, I’ve never been nailed by a shirt bomb. So what’s my excuse?

© 2017 Doug Carpenter

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